As billions of people around the world are adapting to changes and restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we at MOAS are also adapting our operations and programming to cope with the challenges that the outbreak of the virus has brought.
Like numerous refugee agencies and humanitarian organisations around the world, MOAS has suspended non-essential programming and has begun to redirect resources and capacity to COVID-19 responses. Over the last month MOAS has launched several COVID-19 humanitarian responses, and in this blog we will outline our current COVID-19 programming.
In 2020, MOAS continued to support Rohingya refugees and host communities in the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh. In response to COVID-19 pandemic, MOAS launched a new humanitarian initiative, our Mask Making Project, to slow the spread of the virus through the overcrowded refugee camps and local community.
The Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh, which is home to over a million Rohingya refugees, is particularly susceptible to the spread of this virus, due to limited sanitation infrastructure and overcrowded living conditions that make social distancing a challenge as a preventative measure.
In light of the additional difficulties faced by the region in the face of this pandemic, and after our ongoing flood and water safety training was suspended for several months due to new restrictions in the camps, MOAS decided to utilise our resources to contribute to the COVID-19 emergency response in the region.
With support from IOM, we decided to transform our newly constructed workshop in Shamlapur into a production hub for the manufacturing of reusable, washable cotton face masks to be distributed across the region as a preventative measure and attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
The prototype we developed for the masks was approved by the Cox’s Bazar Civil Surgeon, and although the masks are not substituting surgical masks or N95 respirators, they are recommended in contexts like Bangladesh where access to other safe sanitation infrastructure is severely lacking, to help stunt the spread of the virus across the region.
This project also served as a livelihood for local host community workers, many of whom lost income due to the shutdown but were then employed in our workshop. Our fantastic team of local tailors (a total of 362, 115 female and 247 male) also included many working from home, to make this project more accessible and beneficial to the wider local community. Furthermore, all our materials for the production of the masks were sourced from local businesses to further support the host community during these challenging and uncertain times.
Our original goal was to make 350,000 masks independently and a further 500,000 with other partners, however, thanks to the dedication of our fantastic team, we exceeded this figure and made an incredible total of 883,514 which represents more than the 50% of masks distributed in the region, an extraordinary result.
The distribution has been coordinated by IOM, the Livelihoods sector and local administrators who have also provided information leaflets on basic hygiene measures as well as how to use and effectively sanitise the facemask to recipients to ensure widespread access to public health information.
Besides the Rohingya refugees in the camps, the target groups of the distributions of masks included those particularly vulnerable to exposure including the police, the Fire Service, the Cyclone Preparedness volunteers and their own community volunteers who have been grateful for the additional preventative measures in light of the pandemic.
In 2020, along with continuing our provision of social and physical support to migrants receiving care at the local hospital and providing supplies to the government’s migrant support office for new arrivals, the need for action to combat coronavirus-related challenges was also evident. Consequently, MOAS established a mask production initiative, with the intention of expanding the provision of protective measures for the many asylum seekers and refugees across the island, the majority of whom live in centres in overcrowded conditions that facilitate the spread of the virus.
MOAS called upon local tailors, seamstresses and any volunteers willing to help out, to make homemade face masks for vulnerable groups on the island.
We were blown away by the overwhelming response to this project and are so grateful for the outstanding generosity of all those who have reached out to us offering their time and support during 2020. In the first round of the project, we collected a total of 6610 masks from our volunteers which have been distributed to vulnerable groups across the island by organisations, such as the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers (AWAS) and Foodbank Lifeline Foundation.
This project was also supported by local stakeholders including a local textile company, the Maltese taxi provider eCabs, as well as the brilliant fashion designer and couturier Luke Azzopardi who kindly created a YouTube tutorial on how to make MOAS masks for our team of volunteers. The support of the community has been what has made this project so special in asserting such a powerful message of solidarity during this challenging time when so many people have experienced extreme hardships due to restrictions on movement and employment opportunities. The masks are washable and reusable, to reduce plastic waste and protect the environment.
Then in August, in response to the endurance of the pandemic, we decided to initiate a second round of the project. Once again, the people of Malta demonstrated their community spirit by getting back to their sewing machines and making a further 3,000 masks.
The response to both rounds of the project was fantastic, and through the hard work, generosity and solidarity imparted to us by our volunteers, as well as several supporting local businesses, nearly 10,000 masks were made by over 140 volunteers.
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